Anglo-Dutch consumer giant Unilever said last week it has set a new annual sales target of €1 billion for plant-based food products as consumers turn away from meat and dairy.

Known for brands like Ben & Jerry’s and Magnum ice cream and Hellmann’s mayonnaise, Unilever said it was boosting its range of such vegan-friendly products to meet the target within five to seven years.

Unilever said the target represented around a fivefold increase on current sales of meat substitutes.

Central to its plans are the Dutch company De Vegetarische Slager (the Vegetarian Butcher), which offers its meat substitute products in some 20,000 outlets across 30 countries, Unilever said.

The target is part of Unilever’s ‘Future Foods’ plan, which it says is aimed at helping people move to healthier diets and to reduce the environmental impact of food production globally.

“As one of the world’s largest food companies, we have a critical role to play in helping to transform the global food system,” Hanneke Faber, president of Unilever’s Foods & Refreshment Division, said in a statement.

As one of the world’s largest food companies, we have a critical role to play in helping to transform the global food system- Hanneke Faber, president, Unilever Foods & Refreshment Division

The plant-based meat and dairy alternative market is growing rapidly worldwide, with people adopting partly or entirely vegan diets for dietary, ethnical and environmental reasons. 

Unilever’s 2018 acquisition of The Vegetarian Butcher was a key part of its strategy to capitalise on a market that JP Morgan has said could be worth $100 billion (€84bn) in the next 15 years because of the climate emergency.

The Vegetarian Butcher recently made a deal to supply Burger King with plant-based ‘Whoppers’ in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Unilever said it was also aiming to cut food wastage by half by 2025, including by a pilot app offering boxed surplus products and donating some one million products a year to food banks.

The multinational has announced a number of green initiatives, including halving its use of plastic by 2025 and eliminating the use of fossil fuels in cleaning products by 2030. It wants to achieve carbon neutrality by 2039.

Unilever has received praise in some quarters while being accused of “woke-washing” by some environmental and consumer groups.

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